What Causes IBS?

Most IBS symptoms are caused when the brain misinterprets normal stomach signals

How Does this happen?

Sometimes there is a triggering event, like food poisoning or the flu, that causes nerves in your stomach to be raw and oversensitive, almost like a sunburn on your skin. This causes what should be normal gut activities, like being hungry, digesting food, or having to go to the bathroom, to be uncomfortable or painful. Those pain signals can trigger your body to protect itself, and move food through your gut too slowly (constipation) or too quickly (diarrhea). Most people can relate to those feelings. But in people with IBS, those feelings can last long after the trigger is gone. They can cause you to consciously and subconsciously worry about your next meal, which makes the problem even worse. Now whenever you see food or think about eating, your brain associates it with the discomfort, retaining, or purging that happened before.

Unfortunately, IBS symptoms can also happen without a specific triggering event like food poisoning or stomach flu.  The brain misinterprets what should be normal signals and creates pain and discomfort. Over a long period of time, that cycle becomes part of everyday life for IBS sufferers.


Because your brain is plastic and capable of rewiring itself, it can change how it interprets normal signals from the gut. That means your brain can teach itself to take normal signals and interpret them as emergency signals. This is the same thing that happens in chronic pain syndrome. But it also means that it’s possible to fix it.

How do you fix it?

You can retrain your brain to interpret those normal communications correctly and break the cycle of anxiety, pain, and discomfort that happens when you think about eating food.

Get help from a professional

Over 70% of patients who undergo a therapist-guided program experience relief from their IBS symptoms. You can work with your own state-licensed therapist to retrain your brain's interpretation of the signals it's receiving, entirely online using secure video chat technology.

Help Yourself

With leaders in brain-gut communication, we have formulated some guidelines that may put you on the right path for this retraining process. Making simple changes to the way you think about feelings from your gut may help reduce your symptoms. 

How do other solutions fit in?


A carefully controlled diet is effective for some people, but it does not rewire the brain to interpret gut signals correctly. Also, many people have a hard time following a strict diet. You may be able to strictly avoid foods that your brain worries about, but if you eat those foods again you will have the same problems.


The microbiome (bacterial community) inside your intestines plays an important role in your body’s ability to break down and utilize food.  The problem with relying on probiotics is that they do not rewire your brain's interpretations of signals coming from the gut. If the cause of gut distress is an imbalance in the microbiome, it is possible that probiotics can help, but in clinical studies there is little evidence that probiotics have a significant effect on IBS.

Stress, Anxiety and IBS

Studies show that stress, anxiety, depression, and IBS are related and often happen together. The stress and anxiety you feel can worsen your IBS symptoms because the gut is  controlled by the nervous system.


Since IBS is a largely a neurological condition, the most common medications do not treat the root cause - only the symptoms. Whether they are medically effective or work as the result of a placebo effect, pharmaceutical solutions often only work in the short-term.